Tularemia In Cats

Tularemia in Cats

What Is Tularemia In Cats?

Tularemia, often referred to as "rabbit fever," is an uncommon yet potentially lethal bacterial ailment resulting from the bacterium Francisella tularensis. While it mainly impacts rabbits and various wild rodents, on infrequent occasions, it can also manifest in cats and humans. While dogs seem largely resistant, they might unknowingly carry the bacteria without showing symptoms.

Regarding its global presence, tularemia can be found in many parts of the world, including almost every state in the USA except Hawaii. The states of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas tend to see a higher number of cases. The infection rate typically rises during the late spring and throughout the summer.

Symptoms Of Tularemia In Cats

Symptoms of tularemia in felines can range from subtle to severe. While some cats may appear unaffected, others might be critically sickened by the infection. Here are typical indicators of the disease in cats:

  • High fever (104-106F) 
  • Depression and lethargy
  • Large painful lymph nodes 
  • Abdominal pain due to an enlarged liver or spleen
  • Yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of eyes (jaundice)
  • Anorexia and vomiting 
  • Dehydration and general weakness
  • Oral ulcers and abscess
  • Sepsis

Causes Of Tularemia In Cats

Ticks primarily facilitate the spread of the bacterium Francisella tularensis among rabbits and rodents. However, various vectors, including mosquitoes, horseflies, biting flies, fleas, and sucking lice, can also play a role in its transmission. When animals are infected, their tissues and fluids become potent carriers of the bacteria, making predatory activities, such as cats preying on infected rodents, a potential transmission source.

The surrounding environment, like soil where the bacteria can thrive for extended periods, may become a reservoir of the disease. This bacteria can persist in plants or water and be inhaled when it becomes aerosolized or penetrates the body via skin wounds or mucous surfaces.

Being a zoonotic disease, tularemia can transfer from animals to humans. Potential transmission avenues include vectors like ticks or mosquitoes or direct contact with infected animal tissues and fluids, such as handling a diseased rabbit or cat. After exposure in humans, symptoms typically manifest within 3 to 5 days, though this can vary from 1 to 14 days.

Due to the highly infectious nature of tularemia and its potential severity in humans, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect exposure.

Diagnose Of Tularemia In Cats

Upon visiting the veterinarian, an extensive physical check-up will be initiated, looking for signs like fever, swollen lymph nodes, and discomfort in the abdomen. To make a more informed evaluation for tularemia, sharing specifics about any recent travels, possible tick interactions, and your cat's predation behaviors is helpful.

The vet will typically advise a comprehensive blood analysis, serum chemistry profile, and urine test to establish an initial understanding of the cat's health. Given the rarity of tularemia in felines, the primary goal will be to exclude prevalent conditions, like infections or liver ailments.

Your veterinarian might suggest targeted laboratory examinations if tularemia is a strong suspicion. This could involve checking for antibodies reacting to the Francisella tularensis bacteria. Other advanced diagnostic tests, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to detect bacterial presence or distinct cultures of Francisella tularensis from blood or tissue samples, might be essential for a definitive diagnosis.

For wild creatures like rabbits and rodents, the presence of tularemia is frequently determined after death through a necropsy, which is akin to an autopsy but for animals. The bacteria often form pronounced tumor-like growths and pus-filled pockets in these animals' livers, signaling the need for further testing for Francisella tularensis.

Treatment Of Tularemia In Cats

Prompt and proactive intervention is crucial for effectively tackling tularemia. Cats may require hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids, address dehydration, and balance electrolyte discrepancies. Alongside this, supplementary care might be prescribed for pain relief or to counteract nausea. The primary therapeutic approach against the bacteria causing tularemia is administering antibiotics.

Recovery Of Tularemia In Cats

Tularemia poses a significant risk to cats, making swift diagnosis and intervention essential for optimal outcomes. Many cats, once diagnosed, spend about 2 to 3 days in the hospital receiving IV fluids, essential care, and antibiotics. Typically, they're ready for discharge once their fever subsides and they can sustain their food and water intake.

The antibiotic treatment usually extends for 3 to 4 weeks, ensuring complete eradication of the Francisella tularensis bacteria from the feline's system. If cats respond positively early on, they're likely to recover fully.

Since fleas and ticks are prevalent carriers of the disease, consistent flea and tick control is advisable. For those residing in areas where tularemia is more common, considering an indoor lifestyle for your cat might reduce potential risks.

It's worth noting that tularemia is a notifiable disease. This means both human doctors and veterinarians have an obligation to inform public health officials upon diagnosis, facilitating effective contact tracing and monitoring of the infection's spread.


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